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Democrats aim to give Bolton boot

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WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats began flexing their muscles Thursday, bluntly telling President Bush that his renomination of U.N. Ambassador John Bolton was "going nowhere."

Bolton's recess appointment expires in January, and the new Democratic-controlled Senate would have to confirm him if he is to stay on the job.

"I never saw a real enthusiasm on the Republican side to begin with. There's none on our side," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the next chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Added a Democratic leadership source: "We're not going to let him through."

But Bush could give Bolton a different job and assign him to the United Nations.

Democrats will likely be much more accommodating to Robert Gates, President Bush's pick to head the Pentagon.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., incoming Armed Services Committee chairman, supports starting Gates' confirmation hearings later this year.

Once Democrats assume majority control in January, key committees will get new chairmen. Here's a look at some of those committees and the issues before them:

Homeland Security: Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., lost the 2006 Democratic primary to millionaire businessman Ned Lamont, who criticized Lieberman's support of the war in Iraq. But Lieberman won the election as an independent and has pledged to align himself with Democrats. He'll oversee legislation on anti-terror efforts and funding.

Judiciary: Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont will put immigration reform, Bush's judicial nominations and domestic surveillance programs atop his agenda.

Foreign relations: Biden's panel will focus on hot spots such as Iraq, nuclear-armed North Korea and Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Armed services: Levin, a leading critic of the Iraq war, will make that conflict his panel's top priority, along with Afghanistan. In June, Levin led an unsuccessful effort to pass a nonbinding proposal urging Bush to begin withdrawal of troops from Iraq by the end of the year.

Appropriations: Robert Byrd of West Virginia is blasted by critics as the king of pork-barrel politics. Byrd will face calls to do away with pork and set spending limits.

Health, education and labor: Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts once stood with Bush on the No Child Left Behind reform bill, but they've since been at odds over it.

Intelligence: Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia will be urged by Democrats to finish the probe of the Bush administration's alleged twisting of pre-war Iraq intelligence before the 2003 invasion.

Finance: Max Baucus of Montana will take up Democrats' call to roll back Bush administration tax breaks for big oil and the richest Americans.

Special committee on aging: Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin may try to fix Bush's prescription drug benefit formula, which has vexed seniors.